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Listening session on Westfield climate resiliency and vulnerability is June 16

WESTFIELD – A remote public listening session will be held June 16 at 7 p.m. during the regularly scheduled Planning Board meeting on a new Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) and climate resilience plan for the city. The meeting will be broadcast on Channel 15.

Climate resilience is the ability of a community to address the needs of its built, social and natural environment to anticipate, cope with, and rebound stronger from events and trends related to climate change hazards. Planning for climate resilience allows Westfield to build capacity to reduce the impacts from future climate events rather than just react to events as they occur.

Westfield received a grant of $32,000 from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to complete the public engagement and climate resilience planning process by June 30. Once the plan is completed and approved by EEA, the City will be designated as an MVP Community, joining 287 communities across Massachusetts that have been so-designated since the MVP program began in 2017. This designation will also open up new state funding opportunities across various sectors.

City Planner Jay Vinskey coordinated the MVP program, with the participation of a core team of city staff to plan for ways to better prepare and protect the City from natural and climate-related hazards. Included on the core team were representatives from the Fire, Police, Public Works, Engineering, Public Health, Emergency Management, Conservation, Community Development and Westfield Public Schools. The kickoff meeting was held on March 12, the day before the city shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the study to be held remotely.

Vinskey said the core team identified 100+ stakeholders and organizations, who were invited to four workshops to receive broader input to the process, with about 25 people participating in each.

Tighe & Bond, a Westfield-based consulting firm, is assisting the City with this endeavor. Emily Tully, environmental planner with Tighe and Bond said the pandemic is not the type of disaster the plan, which focuses on natural hazards will cover.

“We were able to get good engagement because the pandemic brought this type of planning to people’s minds. Hopefully, the public listening session is well-attended on Tuesday,” she said.

At Tuesday’s session, Tully will show a draft report of the initial findings. Tully said Westfield is located between two rivers, and flooding seemed to be a major concern for people for the future, both small scale flooding from storms and large-scale flooding from the rivers, and concerns about the upscale dams.

“One of the changes we’re already seeing is a change in the precipitation patterns, going from more frequent, smaller rainfall events, to less frequent more intense rainfall events; and going back and forth from periods of drought to heavy rainfall,” Tully said.

She said another really noticeable impact of climate change in Westfield is the increase of days over 90 degrees, which she said have significantly increased over the last ten years.

“In a city with a substantial elderly population, that can be a real health and safety concern. Along with that, people are also concerned about the potential for drought and maintaining a safe water supply,” Tully said.

She said other concerns of participants were severe winter storms, invasive species and protecting the aquifer.

Members of the public are encouraged to view or listen to the June 16 remote public session, and may do so by tuning into Channel 15 or online at Public comment is invited and will be accepted during the session by teleconference. Call 929-205-6099 with Meeting ID# 899 4604 7736 and Password ID# 492200.

There will also be a 10-day comment period on the plan, which will be posted on the city website at following the presentation. “This is the opportunity for the public to add their comments to the report,” Tully said.

Tighe and Bond, a certified provider of Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness, is currently conducting a similar study in Royalston, and previously has worked in Quincy, Manchester by the Sea and others. The company, which started in and has its main office in Westfield, has a very long history with the city working on roads and water lines, as well as the current water treatment to address PFOA concerns, according to Tully.

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